Friday, July 31, 2009

Asuka 120% Maxima BURNING Fest

~ ASUKA 120% ~
Fill-in Cafe / NEC Avenue
Super CD-ROM

This is far and away my favorite one-on-one fighting game. While technique and strategy are indeed required if you want to get really good at it, there's no need to burn the midnight oil studying move lists or practicing combos; you can jump right into the fray and reap immediate enjoyment. The controls are perfect; the game feels fast and fresh and truly stands apart from the many 16-bit-era Street Fighter II clones. The soundtrack is great, very energetic and exciting, and two-player mode is a blast.

I know many people will write Asuka off based on the assumption that a fighter featuring high-school girls can't possibly be a quality product, but they might find themselves surprised if they simply give the game a shot. It's not "naughty"; the character designs emphasize wackiness and distinctiveness over cuteness or sexiness, and all of the girls have neat techniques at their disposal. Even if you aren't into fighting games (I'm not a huge fan of them, myself), you should give this one a try.

These aren't your usual high-maintenance high-school girls.

My favorite is Karina, the biology student whose explosive pet frog aids her in battle.

Titular Asuka is Karina's main rival. I bet that if the two were to team up, they'd be able to take down Ryu and Ken, no problem.

There are plenty of crazy ways to dole out a beating.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Madou King Granzort

Hudson Soft
HuCard (SuperGrafx)

Madou King Granzort is an action game somewhat reminiscent of Blood Gear's sidescrolling segments, which isn't all that surprising considering that Red had a hand in both efforts. That doesn't mean you should expect MKG to match the excellent BG as far as depth and excitement go, but it does boast a cool gameplay feature absent from its aRPG cousin: the availability of three playable characters, each of whom possesses distinct abilities and weaponry and is selectable on the fly.

There's the fearless RED robot, who busts shit up with his earth-shaker technique and awesome energy blade.

There's the slick GREEN robot, who utilizes his handy hover-skills to reach faraway platforms while slaying adversaries with a neat beam bow.

And there's the wimpy BLUE robot, who wields a weak baton-like thing and cowers behind a defense barrier.

Switching at the right times is necessary not only to destroy all of your enemies but also to make it through the vast, occasionally mazelike levels. Granzort isn't merely about plodding along and smashing stuff. There's plenty of room for exploration, and if you take the time to deviate from straight-ahead villain-crushing, you can find LOTS of extra lives.

Sadly, this brings us to a couple of gripes I imagine some people will have about the game. Aside from the occasional shield icon, there isn't really much to stumble upon while exploring except for the copious 1-ups. And once you collect dozens (literally) of those, the adventure might not seem very exciting or challenging. Boring background graphics won't help sustain interest.

Granzort gets off to a good start graphically with nice colors and parallax (though the bushes and ruins look paper thin as they scroll by)...

...but later backdrops are drab. At least the action remains satisfying.

Regardless of how they look, the levels are pretty fun to explore, though you can search high and low without finding anything aside from unnecessary 1-ups.

A few good whacks to the head will take care of this guy in Stage 1...

...but he wisens up for the return bout.

The blue robot is a throwaway character for the most part, but his defense barrier is essential during certain boss fights.

Head shots are in order here.

The last beast isn't very mobile, but it creates other creatures who can cause lots of trouble. Deal with them quickly if they're of the troublesome sort; but when a foe who doesn't do much (like the red goober in the above shot) materializes on the right side of the screen, leave it alone and bust up the boss with ease.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fighting Street

Hudson Soft / Capcom

Ah, good old Fighting Street, the first TG-CD game. I didn't buy it back when it was originally released. In fact, having never been too interested in it, I didn't buy it, period. But it eventually showed up as a surprise freebie inside the case of a Kabuki Den I'd purchased. The PC Engine gods clearly wished to deliver misfortune upon my humble home that miserable day.

This unfortunate farce-of-a-fighter has but a few positive elements working in its favor. The voices are horrible enough to be somewhat amusing, and some of the backdrops don't look all that bad (I particularly like the British countryside in Eagle's stage).

Aside from that stuff, the game is utterly awful. The fighters are large but look terrible...

...while the bonus rounds are jokes. Two different brands of extracurricular "fun" await you: an exercise in annihilation involving a room full of board-holding fools and a test of timing that calls for you to chop through a pile of bricks.

Personally, I’d rather beat up on the Final Fight car than partake in either.

But the worst part would have to be the controls. Regardless of how many other fighting games you've conquered and how many quarter-circle moves you've performed throughout your gaming career, you'll have a tough time getting Ryu to pull off his trademark techniques with any sort of consistency. What saves me is that the special moves, in the rare instances that the game actually lets me perform and connect with them, do lots of damage. Two or three landed specials suffice to put an opponent down for the count. So I just keep inputting the appropriate button combinations and pray for a couple of successful attempts. No, the process isn't much fun, but it's about the only way to get by in this game.

FS is easily the worst PCE fighting game. If you don't already own it, avoid it. If you receive it for free, ship it back to the sender.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tengai Makyou Fuun Kabuki Den

Hudson Soft / Red
Super CD-ROM

Kabuki Den is my favorite Tengai Makyou game and certainly ranks as one of the upper-echelon PC Engine RPGs. Contrary to chronology it may be, but I always recommend playing KD first if you're interested in the PCE TM games. While Ziria initially seems primitive and slow and even Manji Maru needs a few hours to really hit its stride, Kabuki Den is crazy, colorful fun from the outset and is sure to pull you in with its vibrant visuals, uproarious cinemas, and wacky main character.

The game revels in delivering the unexpected, making it one heck of a suspenseful and exciting ride. You'll confront singing bosses, clown around at amusement parks, and even journey to London (and be treated to some amusing English dialogue).

But the adventure isn't all about carrying on and being goofy: you'll undoubtedly grow quite attached to the unique little band that Kabuki heads up and experience some traumatically tragic moments (one scene in particular is especially affecting and unforgettable).

The final stretch contains some of the craziest surprises you'll ever come across in a video game. The string of money moments near the end drops like a fucking bomb; it's insane, like the Usual Suspects ending of games but much wilder than that.

Of course, none of the showtime stuff would mean much if the actual gaming elements didn't hold up their end of the deal; thankfully, Kabuki Den's in-game mechanics and superficials are perfectly fine. Battles are reminiscent of old Final Fantasy rumbles presentation-wise. Characters and monsters run back and forth to hit each other, and spell animations are tossed in, but the scuffles play out fairly quickly, and you get some nice (if simplistic) backdrops to boot. There's even a command that allows you to engage in battle whenever you so desire, so you don't need to run around in circles waiting to be attacked if you want to level up.

The music is good, although it probably isn't the type of stuff that'll stick with you forever. Among the best tracks are a somewhat-eerie temple tune surprisingly reminiscent of Super Castlevania IV's music and a minor-boss number that features some fantastic bass parts.

Longtime Duomazov ally Justin Cheer wrote a very good KD walkthrough, so you don't need to worry too much about the language barrier. The menus aren't covered in the guide, and they can be pretty daunting at first; but you should experience smooth sailing after you've got the basics figured out, and you'll be all set to go with Manji Maru as well, as it plays in pretty much the same fashion.